It’s finals week here at UAF and that means no sleep because you’re studying… or, because the aurora is out! Last night I simultaneously watched the aurora “oval” (i.e. the prediction of aurora visibility as provided by NOAA Space Weather) on my screen and studied for my evolution exam on Tuesday. When the aurora perked up overhead at 10:30 PM I abandoned my books, and headed outdoors. For the sake of my education, I decided to stay close to home last night and shoot over the UAF Sustainable Village so that I wouldn’t stay out too late. It was a stunning night to be out!
I am continuing to improve on my timelapsing technique. Last night these images were shot at 1sec with no buffer for card write in the middle. In the past I have left 2 seconds for card write. Often in those two seconds the aurora changes so much that a small gap has been created. You’ll notice without that gap, that the Aurora is silky smooth! Although this isn’t real-time, at 1 second intervals it’s getting pretty close! The 1 second exposure captured the vertical banding of the high aurora well.
It seems I have inherited a family legacy. Why? Well, outside of my window as I type this a red squirrel, whose fat rolls are bulged to the size of small golf balls under its elbows, is eating my birdseed and I am choosing to do nothing about it. Many chipmunks and squirrels were spared from my arrows and bullets because they were decreed ‘off-limits’ by my dad although they were destroyers of gardens and wasters of seeds. Bird feeder construction attests to the cumulative frustration of birders everywhere watching their money being vacuumed up by greedy rodents. Undoubtedly, if I were to figure out how many pounds of bird seed the family of squirrels living in my brush pile were responsible for chomping down at my buffet line, I would find that my 40 pound bags would last indefinitely longer. In the back of my mind, I know the squirrels are any easy target for my stew pot, but I never seriously consider harvesting them around the house because the feeder is a sacred place. Besides, it hardly seems sporting to shoot a happy squirrel on top of his seed supply.
A winged candidate for dinner has also taken up residence under the feeder and watches me from the surrounding birches or from the hoops of my fallow garden each day that I walk by. Like the mind of the Wiley Coyote, that sharp-tailed grouse has transformed into drumstick in front of my eyes several times. But, seeing as I have not even thrown a rock at it, it has become fairly accepting of pedestrian traffic. I think anyone that has a bird feeder can give nod to the benefit of these wildlife for watching far outweigh their worth in their pan.
My feeder has been a great source of entertainment, and has also given me insight into natural bird foraging behavior. The birds interact with the Alaskan Birch and my feeder. During the last couple of days I have come to appreciate the importance of the catkins of the Alaska Birch as a food source. Both the pine grosbeaks and black-capped chickadees have been taking mouthfuls of them. Seems like pretty meager forage to me!
Spending time watching wildlife in your backyard is rewarding! Observing this sharp-tailed grouse nearly every day for the last two weeks has been a privilege, and I’ve learned a lot. For instance, they do not move far, and this one roosts in the same trees near the house every night. During the day it spends most of the time on the ground and does not move farther than about 30 yards. Although sharp-tailed grouse are not traditionally common in the Fairbanks region, they seem well adapted to the cold and can puff their bodies up to large sizes much like chickadees, jays, and other boreal species.
I will leave you with a ‘feeder first’ which occurred just two days ago. A northern shrike came and perched outside of my window. It was near dark, but the chickadees started squawking and kept their distance from the carnivorous bird. I must say, I was rooting for this bird to whack a chickadee, just to see it first-hand! Shrikes are actually songbirds, and are known as “butcher birds” because they cache food by impaling it on sticks or anything sharp. They eat rodents, small birds, and insects (in the summer). Ordinarily they are found in habitats with tall trees where they perch and survey the area. It was very rare to see one in a closed spruce and birch habitat, and especially at this time of year in Fairbanks! Due to the time of day (we are down to 5 hours of light), I wasn’t able capture to an incredible shot of the bird, but here’s what I have. It shows very clearly the curved beak for tearing meat, a feature you would normally attribute to being a raptor.
The incessant baying of sled dogs, a starlit night, and a beautiful red aurora. When I went out to Black Spruce Dog Kennels to capture the aurora I was waiting for the effects an X-flare to hit the earth. Two days before the sun had let loose one of it most powerful class of flares. Even though the flare was not directly headed to earth, the ejected plasma was expected to react with our earth’s magnetic field and cause some auroras! My goal for the night was to tie together two cultural pieces of Alaska – dog mushing and the aurora. Incredibly, the aurora started showing up on my camera at 6:00 PM on my camera along with the moonrise. On an ‘ordinary’ night the aurora will begin at 10PM – the early aurora was a good omen for what was to come!
From a technical standpoint this is one of my favorite auroras I’ve captured. The stars were pin-point sharp and as you’ll see the pan over a dog-sled adds a ton! Shooting over the activity of the dogs was a lot of fun – but I had to leave so they would kennel up. If you have ever been around a group of sled dogs they bark, bay, and howl when strangers are around!
Artistically, the reds are some of the nicest colors I’ve captured. They only appeared for about 25 minutes during the night, but it was stunning! Sitting under the aurora, I thought of the old adage “Red Sky At Night, Sailor’s Delight”, and thus the title of this post was born!
I arrived home at 5:00am and the aurora was still dancing over the Sustainable Village. I snapped a couple of captures for finally calling it a night, which you’ll see below. Overall the aurora was visible for 12 hours due to the x-flare activity!
The timelapse video here captures the reds of a beautiful aurora and a little slice of life at the Black Spruce Dog Kennels.
I must say the newest young life in our household is much anticipated. I’ve watched patiently for several days waiting their arrival, and finally, they’re here! I’m not talking about any mammals, rather, some brand new shoot of Cilantro :).
Time to start thinking spring and summer with this timelapse of plant growth! It’s not too soon to start drooling over warm weather. Is it??!
As some of you know, I have been living and working in the Sustainable Village here on campus and it’s been a really significant part of my life here; I wanted to spend a little time talking about my experiences here so far.
Once I knew that I was coming to grad-school I immediately started looking for positions at Residence Life. I worked for two years as an RA at my undergrad at Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin (www.northland.edu) and one year as hall director; I was in charge of a staff of five and accountable for all of the residents in my building. I learned a lot during those three years, and had great experiences and relationships with my residents which made it worthwhile. During my graduate study I looked to continue what I had learned and wanted to use Residence Life at UAF as a way to integrate myself into the campus system and meet new friends and people. I felt my experience as a graduate student would be beneficial to my residents, who I assumed would be largely undergrads. I went through the interview process and ended up landing a position at the UAF Sustainable Village which is a perfect place for me; I feel my previous background and ideas fit into this position in a fate-like fashion . The Village was established in 2012 and was UAF’s first sustainable housing development. It integrates a community style living approach and sustainable-living guidelines in an approach that matched much of what I learned from Northland’s environmental mission. I was genuinely excited for the position as it offered a strong leadership role with almost endless amounts of innovation and self-motivation. When I came in, in fall of 2013, it was the second cohort of students and we are still setting precedence for what a cohort of students will look like in the future.
As part of my involvement in the Village I have had great interactions with the Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC; http://www.cchrc.org/) which were responsible for the design and construction of these buildings; however, it should be noted that the original design concepts of these houses were generated by a student based competition, which is very cool! CCHRC is interested in understanding sustainable development in the arctic; they are an outstanding research group and built the Sustainable Village with several systems that have not necessarily been attempted or tried before in hopes of improving housing for the future. Although I’m sure my list is not exhaustive, here are just some of the concepts demonstrated within the four houses:
Above-ground contained septic treatment
Heat Recovery Ventillator (HRV)
Energy Recovery Ventilation (ERV)
Superior Envelop design
Solar-thermal, radiant floor heating
Insulated floors (r-60)
Polyurethane floor Raft (to protect the permafrost)
These concepts are all designed to make the houses energy efficient and sustainable in a northern climate where we have already surpassed -40 degrees this winter (as of 11/21/2013) and will continue to do so through March. So, how effective are these houses? CCHRC published their first year results here : http://www.cchrc.org/docs/snapshots/SustainableVillageSnapshot.pdf. An important graph from that publications shows the usage of energy from the Village houses compared to the average house in Fairbanks.
The graph demonstrates pretty well the effectiveness of the design of these houses! Of course sustainability is more than technology driven and should contain lifestyle changes as well. The residents at the Village are required to compost and recycle. The compost is used for community vegetable gardens, which are tended in the summer. The residents are asked to think consciously about their energy and water consumption and use alternative forms of transportation such as walking, biking, public transportation, or carpooling when a personal car is necessary. Community is a critical part of mission of the village and is something I play a critical role in; it my interest and job description to create programming that residents can have fun with and learn from. As part of the demonstration of this, I had a great opportunity to put together this video of life in the Sustainable Village. If you watch it all the way to the end I will say you get to see some very special footage from above the Sustainable Village which demonstrates its relation to the UAF campus, as well as some of the beauty of winter here!
Thanks for checking in everyone! Have a great Thanksgiving which is next week, and Christmas will be here before we know it which is a much anticipated break for this college student!!
This weekend was my first weekend to get out and enjoy the beautiful fall weather of Alaska. It had been a pretty rainy, dreary week. But at 11AM on Saturday morn the sun broke through the clouds and has been shining ever since! I headed up to Murphy Dome (http://goo.gl/X9dL3k) for some grouse and ptarmigan hunting. I was blown away by the mixture of spruce and fiery birch that were EVERYWHERE. Up here we have the ‘alaskan paper birch’, which is very similar to the white paper birch of the mid-west.
One of the unusual things about this fall in Fairbanks has been the amount of rain we received. Of course, I can’t say ‘unusual’ from my experience here, rather just based on what others have said. Because of the amount of rain that we received the fall fungi have been very common! I love how their dark reds, browns and yellows offset the golden carpet of birch leaves around them. I think they are very beautiful, however, don’t eat these ones! I’m not sure of the exact species, I think it could be amanita muscaria, but I know others in this family will kill you. It’s been described to me as such : “yup, you’ll trip balls, then you’ll die”. So, please, re-frame from any licks or bites. Interested in a bit more information about these shrooms? Check out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amanita_muscaria
Once I got past the fall colors (and it truly is more of a physical barrier than a metaphorical one!) I headed up to Ester Dome region and started to walk around looking for grouse and ptarmigan. As I headed up a powerline cut I was immediately astounded by the volume of blueberries and low bush cranberries. They were EVERYwhere. I had never seen blueberries like that in my life. During my walk I foraged until my stomach told me “no more!”; I imagine I was at the 1/2 gallon point of blueberries and cranberries in my stomach. However, my blueberry findings only got better. After a time I started to walk down this steep draw to a river bed. The trickling stream I found at the bottom was filled with blueberry plants that were almost waist high and could have been bowing to the ground by the numbers of blueberries on them. I knew that I had to do some picking here soon ( that’s called foreshadowing… 🙂 ) and would be back. However, with no grouse in sight I headed back up the draw and found out that walking up moss covered hill sides is absolutely grueling! The best analogy I can think of is walking on a thermopedic mattress that’s 8 inches deep and doesn’t have a box spring to stop you at the bottom. Its like quick sand. The moss and lichen absorbed each step, much like I was wearing moon boots. Coupled with a 15 – 20 % grade and a 3/4 mile straight-up ascent I was beat when hit the ridge again. However, I was rewarded soon after with 2 spruce grouse, my first ever!
After this I met up with a guy named Ross and we headed up to the top of Murphy Dome looking for Ptarmigan. Murphy dome was the highest point for miles around, and the view were truly incredible. We never did see any ptarmigan, but the hike and the day were incredible!
The next day I went back for the blueberries. In a nutshell I was able to pick about 18 pints of blueberries in 1.75 hours! I have never, never,never seen wild blueberry picking like it was in this place. The berries were ready to fall off the bushes, so all you had to do was get your box under and shake the branches. The disadvantage of this technique was the sticks and leaves that fell into the box as well, however, by placing the blueberries in water when I got home they separated out perfectly as the blueberries sank and the sticks/leaves floated! I am looking forward to going back for more berries as this patch. Of course one of the challenges of this location is carrying 20lbs of blueberries in a box up thermopedic mattress hill. Challenge accepted!
I’m truly looking forward to blueberry pie when winter sets in! I’m also thinking of doing some bartering for some moose or caribou. Also, I just thought I’d throw out there that if you ever get a chance to ‘spruce’ up your stir-fry. Try spruce grouse stirfry! Pretty tasty. Pictured here are broccoli, carrots, tomato, green pepper, and mushroom stirfry with spruce grouse 🙂
So readers, that’s a little bit about fall here in AK over the weekend! We have consistent frost at this time, and the ground is frozen in many of the low places. Currently it is dark at about 8:30 and light about 7:30, however we are losing an average of 7 minutes of light PER DAY, so ~50 minutes per week. It will not be long before our days are short and cold. Winter will be setting in soon! I hope to keep you updated as I continue to explore and learn about my region and AK in general!